When Does a Meniscus Tear Require Knee Surgery?

When you think of your knee, what do you think of? Probably your kneecap, arguably the most visible (and touchable) part of your knee. But there’s a lot more to your knee than the bony outer prominence.

Inside your knee, two wedge-shaped pads of cartilage, called menisci, provide your knee with thick cushioning, supporting healthy knee function and absorbing shocks and impacts inside the joint. Although the menisci are tough, they can still be torn, causing knee pain, stiffness, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

The good news: Not all tears require knee surgery, but when surgery is required, recovery is fairly quick. At Texas Orthopaedic Associates, our team is skilled in conservative treatments and surgery to repair a damaged meniscus.

Here’s how meniscus tears happen and when surgery is the best treatment option.

Meniscus tears: the basics

Meniscus tears are most often associated with sports, like football, basketball, or skiing, that put a lot of pressure, strain, or torsion (twisting) on the knee joints. They’re also more common among active-duty military personnel and people whose jobs require a lot of squatting or kneeling. And, like a lot of knee problems, meniscus problems also tend to happen more in older people.

Depending on the severity of the injury, a meniscus tear typically causes pain in and around the joint, especially when you bend or twist your knee or put a lot of weight on it. You might also have stiffness or swelling or difficulty straightening your knee.

For very mild meniscus tears, we typically begin with conservative treatment options, like:

  • Application of ice
  • Medication
  • Rest
  • Bracing
  • Physical therapy

While many patients regain normal knee function with one or more of these conservative approaches, there are times when surgery is a better option.

When surgery is the best choice

Typically, we recommend surgery only for severe tears or when conservative options don’t work to relieve pain and improve knee function. Surgery is also often recommended if your knee is “locked” or if your knee joint becomes unstable and “slips” out of alignment.

Arthroscopy vs. open surgery

Most meniscus surgeries employ a minimally invasive technique called arthroscopic surgery. Arthroscopy uses 2-3 tiny incisions and a long, flexible, lighted scope to see inside the joint and perform the repair.

Arthroscopy can usually be performed on an outpatient basis, and because of the tiny incisions, you can expect recovery to be faster and more comfortable. Our surgeon might also use arthroscopy prior to surgery to assess your joint and map out the best approach to care.

Less commonly, we might recommend an “open” approach to surgery. This is the traditional approach that uses a larger incision to expose the entire joint. Our doctors are skilled in both approaches, so you can feel confident you’ll receive the most appropriate care for your unique needs.

No matter which technique is used, recovery from a meniscus surgery is relatively straightforward, and with postoperative therapy, you can expect to resume most activities within 4-6 weeks.

Don’t let knee pain control your life

Knee pain is a common cause of debilitating pain. With locations in Dallas, Plano, Keller, Weatherford, and Fort Worth, Texas, our team at Texas Orthopaedic Associates is ready to help you find relief.

To find out more, book an appointment online or over the phone today.